We Can Remember It For You Wholesale

The Memory Hacker
Srinivasan explains that the chip is sending electric pulses through the needle into the brain slice, which is passing them on to the screen we're watching. "The difference in the waves' modulation reflects the signals sent out by the brain slice," he says. "And they're almost identical in frequency and pattern to the pulses sent by the chip." Put more simply, this iron-gray wafer about a millimeter square is talking to living brain cells as though it were an actual body part.

Remedying Alzheimer's disease would, if Berger's grand vision plays out, be as simple as upgrading a bit of hardware. No more complicated drug regimens with their frustrating side effects. A surgeon simply implants a few computerized brain cells, and the problem is solved.

Can a chunk of silicon really stand in for brain cells? I ask. "I don't need a grand theory of the mind to fix what is essentially a signal-processing problem," he says. "A repairman doesn't need to understand music to fix your broken CD player."

What the chip is saying is anyone's guess -- the content of the conversation is beside the point, Berger continues. It's straight mechanic-talk from the man who has created a prototype of the world's first memory implant, basically a hardware version of the brain cells in your hippocampus that are crucial to the formation of memory.

"Replicating memory is going to happen in our lifetimes, and that puts us on the edge of being able to understand how thought arises from tissue -- in other words, to understand what consciousness really means."

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16 Responses:

  1. mark242 says:

    Ten bucks says that this research gets shut down by religious types. The day we can back up what they ostensibly call your "soul" is the day that Falwell et al raise such a fit that we'll never hear the end of it.

    Also: bonus for not going with the easy route tagline, "I know kung fu."

    • wfaulk says:

      Your post reminded me of the Norman Spinrad novella Deus X, wherein the Catholic church sets out to determine if the consciousnesses of people uploaded into a computer at death were simply simulacra or if they had souls.

      • mark242 says:

        http://www.americancatholic.org/News/Cloning/vatican_cloning.asp

        s/embryo/consciousness/g;

        "The event therefore, powerfully, brings us to repeat with force that the beginning of human life cannot be fixed by convention at a certain stage of development of a (consciousness); it exists, in reality, at the very first instant of existence of the (consciousness) itself."

        That will be the official stance of the church. But then look at this:

        http://www.zenit.org/english/visualizza.phtml?sid=47518

        "(...) so that the promise of eternal life will not seem something foreign and in the end incompatible with our concrete reality."

        Hence the fit. Backing up the consciousness effectively routes around the "eternal treasures" promise of nearly every single religion in the world.

    • korgmeister says:

      Hold on a second, I'm a "religious type" but a transhumanist as well* and I'm really excited about this development. It looks like the first step into replacing the human brain with a synthetic substitute!

      Also, more immediately, it seems like a big advance in man/machine interface. Hopefully it won't be too much longer before our brains and computers can interface directly and intuitively.

      *No, I am not a fucking Raelian. I'm a liberal protestant. Chill!

  2. phoenixredux says:

    The implications of this are staggering.

    Next stop: immortality!

  3. pdx6 says:

    Of course, getting near an EM field is going to cause some problems, and how often do hardware chips fail? At least the brain can re-route, a blown chip can't. At least, not yet?

  4. ladykalessia says:

    I'm waiting for them to think about the post-medical uses for the tech. Just a matter of time? "Whoah."

  5. ak_47 says:

    I'm going to buy some Kingston and Corsair shares right now!

  6. Memory prosthesis, yes. Replicating (and disseminating) memory? No.

    Even if someone is able to swap out the brain hardware, it's just replacing what's already there. No improvement, no recovered memory, and definitely not any transfer of memory. To use the CD player analogy, each brain is like a CD with its own encoding schema. Slot some of Ed's memory into Larry and you'll just get a read error. In fact, if you "capture" a portion of Ed's memory and then plop it back in him a year later you'll likely get garbled results.

    I think the hardware tweaking is cool, but we're soooo distant from software.

  7. hiddencity says:

    Does this mean we won't be able to use our brains on airplanes any longer?